“Mrs. Lincoln?” Greta asks, paging me over my desk phone. I look over from the spreadsheet open on the computer in front of me, working to align the transactions from Kink with the transactions I’m inputting into the Esclava system. I don’t have time for interruptions now. There is a conference in town where the highest ranking state officials have come together to try and solve Washington’s latest budget crisis. The influx of politicians has kept my club open all day and, while I should be there now, I have to be here in order to figure out a way to legitimize the increased revenue coming in from the club… I plan to get back there by this afternoon, but that will only be possible if I finish these documents before I meet Christian for lunch. And I’m not confident in Isaac’s ability to hold down the fort while I’m away for very long.
“What is it, Greta?” I ask, irritably.
“I’m sorry to disturb you but one of your VIP client’s has just arrived.”
“Oh,” I say, straightening a little in surprise. I didn’t have any of the girls on the schedule today, and they know not to come without an appointment. Something must have happened…
“I’ll be right out,” I tell her, and I reach over to press the speaker button that ends the phone call. After saving and password protecting the spreadsheet on my computer, I stand from my desk, straightening my skirt, and then walk with cool confidence out into the salon. Bernadette is standing there, her face flushed and her eyes puffy, holding the side of her head. Oh, fuck.
“Thank you, Greta,” I tell her as I wrap an arm around Bernadette and lead her away from the reception desk. Once we’re out of earshot, I turn to face her.
“What happened?” I ask. She sniffs and slowly pulls her hand away from her head where I can see a large portion of her hair has been ripped out of her scalp.
“How did this happen?” I ask her, tilting her head so I can get a better look.
“My hair got caught in the suspension grid. When he moved me, he… he…” She starts gasping as she reaches up into her hair again.
“This is why I tell you girls to braid your hair!” I snap at her, but when she starts to cry, I let out a low sigh and pull her into me.
“Calm down,” I say, soothingly. “We can fix it.”
I look around the room and make eye contact with Franco, who is sweeping up after his last customer, snap my fingers, and point down at Bernadette’s long auburn hair. He sets the broom aside and walks over to us, smiling broadly.
“What has happened, my dear?” he asks in his usual, over animated way. Bernadette pulls her hand away, showing him the hairless patch on the side of her head, and he smiles at her.
“Facile,” he says, wrapping a strong arm around her shoulder. “You come with me dear, I’ll have it fixed in no time at all.”
I pass her to him, watching him shower her with compliments on the fiery red color of her hair while he leads her to his chair. Once he’s calmed her down, I glance quickly down at the thin, platinum link watch Christian gifted me for my birthday last year… Fuck, Christian.
It’s nearly 10:30 and I haven’t spoken with him at all today, so I quickly head back over to the reception desk and tap my finger on the granite countertop to get Greta’s attention.
“Yes, Mrs. Lincoln?” she asks.
“Has Andrea called to confirm my lunch appointment with Mr. Grey this afternoon?”
“Not yet…” She says hesitantly.
“That’s fine, just let me know when she does.”
“Yes, ma’am,” Greta agrees and after giving her a short nod, I turn back towards my office. I’m going to have to give Christian a profit rundown of the Pioneer Square location this afternoon, so I quickly pull up the files I’ve spent hours compiling in order to make the business going through that location appear legitimate. I search through each line on documents with a fine toothed comb looking for errors or anything suspicious, and after correcting one number that had been inputted incorrectly, I hit print. The long, soothing sound of the xerox machine reminds me that I haven’t recorded the date and time I brought the submissive into Christian’s office yesterday afternoon, so while the files pile up on the printer, I quickly make note in the small black book I keep tucked away in my top drawer.
Once I’ve scribbled the date and time of our visit onto the page, I quickly glance over the list of times and dates above it. Yesterday makes seven different times I’ve brought one of my girls to Christian’s office, and seven different times they’ve been rejected. I wasn’t too concerned in the beginning, I’d only really brought them there as a kind of insurance policy against Christian should he ever find out about the club… but this preoccupation he has with Anastasia is getting tiresome. It’s been two years and he hasn’t moved on. I don’t like the power she still holds over him, it weakens my position. I need to figure out a way to rid him of her once and for all but the only way I can think to do that is for her to reject him again, in person, but he won’t get on a plane and fly to her. No matter how much I encourage him to.
And then there’s the issue of Grace and Carrick. I thought I’d pretty much nipped that in the bud, but this invitation he’s received to attend Grace’s birthday dinner is troublesome. I need to keep them out of his life as much as possible, which means I need to find a way to prevent him from going to their house, but in a way that won’t raise suspicion. Fortunately, in that moment, inspiration strikes and I quickly reach out for my keyboard and google Carrick’s law firm to get the number and then reach over to my desk phone to dial. It rings twice before someone picks up.
“Thank you for calling the law offices of Carrick Grey and associates, this is Jennifer. How may I help you today?”
“Hi Jennifer, this is Andrea Parker calling from Grey Enterprises Holdings. I’m so sorry to do this, but I’m in a bit of a pickle. You see, Christian was supposed to meet his father and mother for lunch, you know, to finally talk things out, and it seems as though I have misplaced all the details. Does Carrick have a lunch date with either Christian or Grace on his calendar?”
“Ummm, let me check…” She says, her voice drawled out as I listen to her clicking on a mouse. “Yes, it looks like he’s meeting Grace at Altura at 1:15 this afternoon.”
“That’s right, thank you so much, Jennifer. You really are a lifesaver,” I tell her.
“No problem. Have a great day, Andrea.”
“Thanks, you too!” I say brightly. I hang up the phone but then immediately begin to dial the number for Christian’s office.
“Christian Grey’s office, Leila Williams speaking. How may I direct your call?” Leila answers almost immediately.
“Yes, good afternoon, Leila,” I respond. “This is Elena Lincoln. I’m calling to confirm my 1:30 lunch appointment with Mr. Grey.”
“Hold one moment please, Mrs. Lincoln,” Leila says, leaving me to wait in silence for only a few seconds before she speaks again. “Yes, I have Mr. Grey scheduled for a lunch with Mrs. Lincoln at 1:30.”
“Perfect, and, I’m sorry… I just can’t eat at Revel again. Can you change our reservation to Altura instead?”
“Uh…” She hesitates. “I’m not sure…”
“It’ll be fine, Leila,” I say sweetly. “I don’t think he’ll mind. We were just talking the other night about how we’d like to try it out. But, if he asks, you can just blame it on me.”
“Right,” she says. “Perfect, I’ve updated the calendar and I’ll call Altura now and have your table ready for you at one thirty.”
“Thank you, my dear,” I tell her and then hang up the phone, smiling to myself, before I get up to collect the papers off the printer.
Christian is perfectly punctual, pulling up in front of the restaurant at exactly 1:30, but the moment he steps out of his Mercedes SUV, he gives me a very agitated look.
“Altura?” he asks, and I shrug.
“I’ve been wanting Italian and we always go to Revel,” I pout.
“That’s because Revel is your favorite restaurant,” he says, narrowing his eyes at me, but I laugh it off.
“Well not today,” I tell him, and he look as though he may want to argue with me, but after a taking a deep, frustrated breath, he just nods and takes a step towards the door. Once we’re inside and Christian has given the hostess his name, we’re led through the restaurant to a table near the back. The hostess leaves us with menus and as I casually lift mine, I notice Christian looking slightly uncomfortable.
“What’s wrong?” I ask him.
“Nothing,” he replies quickly, but when I don’t drop my stare, he rolls his eyes and leans into the table.
“It’s just a little crowded here,” he says. “If someone recognizes me…”
“Then the press shows up and you get your picture in the society pages and GEH gets free publicity. Honestly Christian, why are you so afraid of people seeing you?”
“I’m not afraid of people seeing me…” He says. His eyes shift briefly down to the table, a gesture he still unconsciously makes everytime he does anything he thinks will displease me, and the way he subtly emphasizes the word me tells me exactly why.
“You’re afraid to be seen with me?” I ask and the look he gives me immediately fills in the blanks. “You’re afraid to be photographed with me because you’re afraid Anastasia will see it.”
“I don’t need anymore reasons for her not to talk to me.”
My jaw tenses as I try and hold back the torrent of angry words I have for him, but as he reaches out to pick up his glass of water, his hand suddenly freezes.
“Fuck,” he hisses, and I raise an eyebrow at him. “My parents are here.”
I glance over my shoulder and see Carrick and Grace seated two tables away from us. They’re leaning into each other, clearly in the midst of a heated exchange. Grace’s hand is clenching tightly to the sleeve of Carrick’s jacket, almost as though she’s trying to hold him in place.
“Should we leave?” I ask, turning a concerned look on Christian, but he takes a deep breath and shakes his head.
“No, they’ve already seen us,” he says. “I won’t cower away from him.”
“And you shouldn’t,” I say softly. “This is his problem, not yours. Let’s just enjoy our lunch.”
“I don’t think that’s what going to happen,” Christian says and I fight the smile that threatens to creep into the corner of my mouth as Christian reaches around to button his jacket and I hear Grace shriek behind me.
“Carrick, get back here,” she demands but only a second later he’s standing by our table.
“What do you think you’re doing?” he demands, staring daggers down at Christian.
“I’m having a business lunch with the director of a division of my company,” Christian says, his even tone sounding cold in comparison to the fire beneath his father’s voice.
“You have some fucking nerve,” Carrick snarls. “Getting your mother’s hopes up, asking to see my daughter… and then I find you out in public with a child molester.”
“Keep your voice down,” Christian snaps, his eyes shooting around the room at the few interested restaurant patrons glancing over at our table.
“No, because unlike you, I don’t think filth like her deserves to be protected,” Carrick says. I look over to see Christian’s jaw tense. That’s right, Christian… defend me to your father.
“I won’t sit here and listen to this,” Christian says softly. “Go back to your table, or I’ll have the maitre’d escort you out.”
“You don’t own this restaurant, Christian,” Carrick argues, and Christian turns a cold look on him.
“I’m Christian Grey. I own this fucking city.”
“Carrick,” Grace says, coming up and gently resting her hands on her husband’s forearms. “Please, let’s go back to the table.”
She glances uneasily down at me and I offer an extraordinarily satisfied look in return before reaching out and placing my hand over her son’s on the table.
“No, let’s go,” Carrick says, nearly shaking now. “Don’t bother showing up this weekend, Christian.”
“Don’t worry, I won’t,” Christian snaps back. Carrick reaches behind him for Grace’s hand and swiftly pulls her after him, but he stops only a few tables away and turns back to face us.
“You can forget about seeing Mia,” he says. “It’ll be a cold day in hell before I let her anywhere near you again.”
Christian’s hands curl into fists on the table but he ignores his father’s words and turns to look back at his menu. I glance up and smirk at both of them as the leave the restaurant.
“I’m sorry, that was humiliating,” I say. “I can’t believe they would do that to you in public.”
“Forget about it,” Christian replies.
“You made the right choice, Christian,” I tell him. “I told you it would have been a bad idea to go to their house this weekend. It would have been so much worse had you been in private…”
“I know you did,” he agrees. “And, you were right. Let’s just… forget about it, okay?”
“Fine,” I nod, and then reach out for my glass of water as I glance down at the menu in my hands. “Do you want to order an appetizer?”